I did my first distance learning course in herbal medicine when I was 19 years old. I wanted to do the degree they offer here in the UK but got swept up in a big state repressive operation against the campaign I was involved in to close down Europe’s largest animal testing laboratory.
In prison, I did more distance learning courses. I worked in the gardens and salvaged the weeds the best I could. I dried dandelion roots on the radiators in my cell, I slept with them under my pillow and hid them during cell searches. I developed an intimate spiritual relationship with the plants growing in the concrete, they kept me going. They reminded me of what a tree looks like, or a forest, or field. They somehow countered the loneliness of being away from any kind of landscape that wasn’t a concrete cage.
After prison, I accepted the fact that with my criminal record applying to a conventional university was impossible. The regulators demanded statements with me showing remorse for my ‘crimes’. I will never show remorse for doing everything I could to stop the torture of 100,000 innocent animals every year. So I dedicated myself to being a grassroots herbalist. It was DIY, experimentation, messy medicine making in my kitchen. I grew hundreds, probably even thousands, of plants and got to know what they liked and how to start them from seed. I kept on learning – short courses, workshops, books. I found an amazing crew and we organised the first Radical Herbalism Gathering in the UK back in 2013 at the land where I live.
Soon I was so engaged in other struggles that my longings to train as a clinical herbalist subsided. In 2016, I got sick. I burnt out hard. Total adrenal shutdown, digestive issues, chronic inflammation and unbearable rib pain. This was the biggest part of my learning to date. I worked with both helpful and disempowering practitioners. I learnt a WHOLE lot about what makes a practitioner someone you want to visit again. I lost my faith in plants for a while during the nights of relentless pain. I was full of fear that I would never recover.
It has taken over 2 years of self-educating and experimenting to recover (and I’m still in recovery, maybe I always will be). I unlearnt my own ableism and attitudes to my body and health in society. I navigated the hierarchy of state-run healthcare. I overcame dissociation and built a relationship with my body, processed traumas and grief and learnt to find ways to take care of myself in this shitty capitalist system. I built relationships with new plants, some outside of my bioregion. Siberian and Chinese herbs I never thought I’d need somehow worked their way into my life. And through overcoming burnout, I could finally quieten my life enough to hear what my heart was really calling for. You have to become a herbalist Nicole. It’s one of the only things that brings you so much joy, so consistently. You have to do it.
Every friend I confessed to shrieked with delight. An ex-partner just smiled and said “Finally!”. And so I began to search for schools again. Schools that seemed politically congruent with my worldview, who taught ecology just as much as anatomy, who were passionate about health justice and accessibility. I found one and guess what, they accepted me. So this October, I will begin a four-year training with the School of Plant Medicine in Ireland by blended learning.
I will be blogging about this journey so watch this space!